Nigeria’s goalless draw with the Republic of Ireland in Group B’s other match ensured the Super Falcons progressed in second place, a point ahead of Canada, to reach the last 16 for the second World Cup in a row.
Hayley Raso’s first-half brace, a second-half goal for Mary Fowler and a Steph Catley penalty secured an eye-catching victory for the co-host and thrilled a raucous crowd of 27,706 inside the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.
For Canada, this early exit caps off a brutally disappointing tournament in which the team never once looked close to its best and the manner of this meek defeat will likely leave a bitter taste for quite some time.
No Kerr, no problem
Australia knew only a win would guarantee it a place in the last 16 and the pressure was certainly on to avoid the same fate as co-host New Zealand, which failed to make it beyond the group stages.
The Matildas also had to find a way to win again without injured star Sam Kerr in the starting lineup. One of the world’s best players and the face of Australia’s home World Cup, Kerr suffered a calf injury in the final training session before the tournament started.
The Chelsea forward missed the opening two games but declared herself fit and available in the days leading up to this match. She didn’t feature from the substitutes’ bench, arguably because the Matildas had no need to risk their star player when they were performing so well.
Any concerns the team would struggle again without Kerr – as it had against Nigeria and the Republic of Ireland – were alleviated early on.
The stadium erupted after only nine minutes when Raso buried the ball into the bottom corner. After a VAR review, French referee Stephanie Frappart signaled there was no offside and the goal stood, leading to a second cathartic eruption of noise from the stands as Raso sank to her knees in celebration.
Australia’s evening looked to have improved even further after Mary Fowler slammed the ball into the roof of the net 10 minutes before half time, but this time VAR was on Canada’s side as another review found there was an offside in the build up.
However, the Matildas weren’t made to wait long for a second goal. Raso again got on the score sheet, prodding the ball home from a corner kick.
While Australia and its fans were in dreamland after a perfect first half, Canada looked shell-shocked.
Among the pre-tournament favorites, Canada had failed to impress so far at the tournament and against Australia looked completely out of its depth in a one-sided first half.
In need of a dramatic turnaround in both score and performance in the second half, Canada head coach Bev Priestman opted to make four changes at half time, including replacing captain and talisman Christine Sinclair.
The changes made very little impact, if any, and the match was over as a contest just before the hour mark after Fowler turned home Caitlin Foord’s cross from close range.
Catley’s late penalty, awarded after Katrina Gorry was fouled by Jessie Fleming on the very edge of the box, added further gloss to an already glittering scoreline as Australia firmly declared itself among the favorites with a dominant performance.
Backed by a vociferous crowd wherever the team goes, Australia will be a daunting proposition for any team at this World Cup.